The Miami Marlins and the future window of contention

When can Jose Fernandez and the Miami Marlins drag themselves back into contention? - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins are losing right now, but is their window of contention opening up sooner than anyone expected?

It may be odd to start talking about "windows of contention" for the Miami Marlins in a 2013 season in which they just lost their 68th game in 111 tries. But it is obvious that Miami is not as bad as they were just three months ago; their offense and pitching have improved, and they have a number of intriguing players to evaluate for the rest of this season.

But that would not have been enough to start discussing a "window of contention." What triggered this is what Grantland's Jonah Keri said this week while he marveled about another spectacular Jose Fernandez performance.

The Marlins still have multiple holes left to fill, starting with just about the entire infield. A cynic would question the team's intentions, given that it tore down the roster just a year after moving into a mostly publicly financed $634 million stadium that has been mostly empty for much of this season. But with a few well-timed moves and a few dollars spent to add talent, this could be a dangerous team, maybe as soon as 2015.

Does that sound right? Have the Fish garnered enough talent in 2013 to become "a dangerous team" in 2015? Let's take a look at the potential Marlins core for that season and examine.

Position Players

The following are the players most likely to be playing at each position by 2015.

Catcher: Rob Brantly / unknown
First base: Logan Morrison / unknown
Second base: Derek Dietrich
Third base: Colin Moran
Shortstop: Adeiny Hechavarria
Outfield: Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton (Jake Marisnick)

The Marlins appear all but set in the outfield, even if they trade Stanton this offseason or the next and get no outfielders in return. Despite a slow start, Christian Yelich appears ready for a big league spot. Marcell Ozuna had flashes of that, but his defense should be good enough to keep him in the big leagues. The same could be said of the athletic Jake Marisnick, who could be the best of the three in terms of defense.

The rest of the lineup, however, is well within contention. Catcher, third base, and shortstop remain question marks, even in 2015. The Marlins no longer have promising prospects as catchers in the minors, as the all-defense Jacob Realmuto, the hapless Kyle Skipworth, and the defensively questionable Austin Barnes are the only in-house options. It is questionable whether Logan Morrison will be on the team in two years, and the Fish have no depth behind him at the position. Derek Dietrich has a good chance of being in the lineup in a couple of seasons, as does Adeiny Hechavarria, but neither option is strong. Finally, Colin Moran is penciled in as potentially the team's starting third baseman in 2015, but unless he has a spectacular 2014, there is a high probability he will start in the minors.

This season's offense has been almost historically bad, and the team in two years may not be a whole lot better, especially if the franchise trades Stanton. The Marlins can only hope for offensive development from some of their non-outfield young hitters, because otherwise the club will be leaning on that talented outfield to produce a lot of runs for Miami.

Pitching Staff

The team figures to have these players as starters by 2015.

Jose Fernandez
Jacob Turner
Andrew Heaney
Justin Nicolino
Nathan Eovaldi

Of course, these are just five of nine names that the Marlins could throw into their rotation within the next two seasons, and this is where the team holds the most promise. The Marlins have a plethora of pitching depth, and not all of it has to pan out to make the team competitive in 2015. These may be the most likely names (and I'm only confident in the first four), but they could also easily include Brian Flynn, Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani, or Adam Conley as well.

The fact that the team has depth also gives them a chance to utilize that depth, if it all develops well, to acquire assets to fill the other holes on the roster. If pitchers like Henderson Alvarez or Adam Conley become successful enough that they deserve starting rotation spots, the Fish could turn them into trade assets in a move to acquire talent elsewhere. This gives the team even more options should their pitching prospects develop well.

Overall

Does this 2015 core look competitive? I cannot say that I agree, though it is probably significantly better than the 2014 potential squad and at least has more long-term options at various positions. The team's keepers include Jose Fernandez, Stanton, Yelich, and possibly another one of the outfielders or pitching staff. But the problems of the infield are still apparent, and the Marlins likely have some holes up the middle, including at catcher.

But that is why Keri said that "with a few well-timed moves and a few dollars spent on talent," this club could work. It is difficult to develop an entire ballclub from your farm system. The Marlins will have that opportunity as they get yet another shot at a top-ten draft pick in 2014, but the franchise is likely to still need help filling the holes. That is where their greatest weakness, intelligent use of money to supplement the franchise, comes into play. The Marlins' only run at major free agents since 2006 ended in disaster. In their previous seasons, they have made the mistake of failing to sign supplementary free agents or make other acquisitions with their money, and that may have been what cost the 2006 era team a potential playoff berth.

The Marlins have a chance to open up a window of contention in 2015, though 2016 looks more appropriate. But that chance is much greater if the Fish are smart and make a supplementary addition to the team from the outside, hence buying the wins with the landfall savings from the Toronto Blue Jays trade provided them.

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